“The driver of the Legal department: working closely with our colleagues on the ground”
5 questions to Frédérique Berthier-Raymond, Group General Counsel and Secretary to the Board.
Frédérique joined Imerys in 2008 as Mergers & Acquisitions Legal Manager. Prior to that, she worked for 10 years as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Parisian law firms, including Latham & Watkins. In 2014, Frédérique was appointed Deputy General Counsel of the group. In November 2018, she became Group General Counsel. Frédérique is also Secretary of the Board of Directors.
1. How would you describe your work as General Counsel and member of the Imerys Executive Committee?
My main role as General Counsel is to ensure the legal security of the Group's operations, the protection of its assets and rights, and the implementation of a legal risk strategy adapted to the Group's profile. I am also Secretary of the Board of Imerys SA, our holding company listed on Euronext Paris.
In practice, this role ranges from supervising contractual negotiations or acquisition or disposal projects, to managing Group's litigation cases, through legal and regulatory monitoring in all areas of law, such as mining, real estate and corporate law, advising on the structuring of our operations, setting up appropriate insurance programs, and also to securing our intellectual property rights and defining and implementing compliance programs within the Group. All this, given Imerys' international presence, and the volume of international flows that it generates, in a complex and changing framework of national and international law enforcement.
All these responsibilities require different expertise which, of course, cannot be fully mastered by a single person. So, my role is first and foremost that of a manager, who, with the help of his team of experts in particular areas of law or in their local law, brings out a vision of legal risk and best legal practices – my ultimate expertise is managing Imerys' legal experts.
Being an Executive Committee member enables me to integrate legal thinking and legal risk strategy into the definition and roll-out of the Group's strategy. Representing the legal function on the Executive Committee is crucial as it positions this function at the heart of Imerys' businesses and at the centre of its strategy.
Beyond the representation of the legal function, this role also entails participation in decision-making in all areas, bringing to it my legal sensitivity when applicable, which also includes respect for compliance and ethics.
Being a member of the Executive Committee also entails a representation role in relation to the employees - this role of representing the management body is always more important at key moments in the life of a company, such as the health crisis.
2. How has the Covid-19 Health crisis impacted the legal function?
The health crisis was a high point in the collaboration and commitment of the legal teams and all of them responded, despite a significant workload and a need for greater flexibility and speed.
Our in-house lawyers on the ground (attached to the Business Areas) have, for example, had to deal with exceptional situations, due to their nature or magnitude - I am thinking in particular of the negotiations to keep our sites operational in some of the 50 countries where we operate.
Our teams have thus had to justify, in extremely short timescales and in the absence of precedent, the essential nature of our products for our customers and the communities we serve. They have also been mobilized in negotiating and securing alternatives to our traditional distribution channels, in order to ensure that our operations are maintained and that we provide the best possible service to our customers.
The central legal teams had their share of challenges, such as preparing and holding our annual general meeting in unprecedented conditions, behind closed doors. I could mention many others - generally speaking, all our projects, including our projects to improve our internal efficiency, were pursued despite the particular context.
I am often asked whether this crisis has been an opportunity to change the positioning or the scope of intervention of the Legal Department. For me, this crisis has confirmed the central role of the Legal Department at Imerys as an "operational expert who has the necessary perspective" to support the company in all its issues and find innovative legal solutions.
3. Would you say that the worst of the crisis is now behind you?
Even though we are experiencing a second wave of lockdown in Europe and our teams on other continents remain largely confined, the intensity of the legal teams' solicitation was felt especially at the beginning of the pandemic, during the first round of restrictive measures in the various countries.
The mobilization of the legal team, both local lawyers working with the BAs and central legal experts, remains total, to support the Group in its growth and enable Imerys to seize the opportunities for an economic rebound that are or will be presented to us.
4. Has the pandemic changed the way you look at management?
The massive quarantine of our teams around the world had an impact, naturally. We at Imerys were fortunate to be immediately operational during the lockdown period, thanks to our strong digitalization, the performance of our IT tools, and our habit of regular interaction with our colleagues around the world. However, we realized over time that it took a conscious, continuous effort to collect and forward information – Information that we previously had easy and subconscious access to simply by interacting together in the office.
This period has been rich in lessons learned and new working and reporting methods have emerged - for example, we are setting shorter-term targets, which allow for more effective remote monitoring. Obviously, we delegate more, while at the same time ensuring more regular monitoring of the progress of projects.
However, we have often lacked convivial moments together and seeing each other remains essential, even if we have found within the legal team the means to create convivial moments during the lockdown phases, in particular by replacing our physical events with digital meetings or challenges.
5. How do you view the presence of women in our industry?
Women obviously remain largely under-represented in our industry and in the industry in general. I've had the opportunity to follow a real career path of internal promotion at Imerys, which has enabled me to grow, develop my scope and blossom in a variety of responsibilities within the Group. We must continue our efforts to create a genuine culture of inclusion, which is the cornerstone for bringing out and fully benefiting from more diversity in the Group. Imerys has drawn up an ambitious roadmap to promote inclusion and diversity in the Group, including fostering the emergence of more women leaders in our organization and is implementing it, even in times of crisis or upheaval.
Today, I observe that the diversity I represent is in addition to the diversity of the profiles of the other members of the Executive Committee. We have very diverse sensitivities, aptitudes and skills, and we fully value the contribution of each and every one of them, especially in times of crisis such as these.
... and as a conclusion?
To conclude, I would like to stress that, despite the challenges generated by the health crisis, it reminded us of what I consider to be Imerys' great strength: the incredible ability of its teams, at all levels of the organization, to mobilize spontaneously and to stand united. Despite the pressure, the health crisis reminded us of the driver of our legal team: the pleasure of working alongside our colleagues in Operations, Sales and other functions, as close to the ground as possible.